A deeply personal account of the author’s thorny relationship with her mother.
One morning, while “leading an unremarkable life” with her husband and young sons in Montana, Sonnenberg received a phone call with the news that her mother had been severely, probably fatally injured in a car accident. She set about making arrangements to fly to Barbados, where her mother lived, then changed her mind. They were already estranged, but this decision put a definitive end to the single most important and dependent relationship of the author’s life. It also led to a breach with her sister, who was outraged that she wouldn’t come to an apparently dying woman’s bedside, then was stuck with the caretaking responsibilities when their mother recovered. The author’s remembrances are designed to justify her decision not to go. She depicts her mother as a stunning and seductive pathological liar with a long history of cocaine and painkiller abuse, as well as unscrupulous sexual behavior. The author spent many years entangled in her mother’s capricious demands, often unable to discern truth from lies. The shocking details Sonnenberg provides about her upbringing certainly show her mother behaving recklessly. The lack of maternal nurturing prompted a hunger in her for fulfillment elsewhere, first in romantic relationships and then as a mother herself. Yet they were close for decades, albeit often in an unhealthy way. Readers may not entirely understand the author’s extreme choice to end contact altogether, or entirely credit her assertion that the distance between them now serves as a comfort. The permanent rift with her sister serves as a reminder of the cost of Sonnenberg’s choice, with which she grapples to live.
Tragic but arresting—a worthy companion to Simone de Beauvoir’s and Vivian Gornick’s explorations of the complicated mother-daughter dynamic.